Events at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago 2014

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, also known as Pritzker Pavilion or Pritzker Music Pavilion, is a bandshell in Millennium Park in the Loop community area of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States. It is located on the south side of Randolph Street and east of the Chicago Landmark Historic Michigan Boulevard District. The pavilion was named after Jay Pritzker, whose family is known for owning Hyatt Hotels. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who accepted the design commission in April 1999; the pavilion was constructed between June 1999 and July 2004, opening officially on July 16, 2004.

Pritzker Pavilion serves as the centerpiece for Millennium Park and is the home of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Grant Park Music Festival, the nation’s only remaining free outdoor classical music series. It also hosts a wide range of music series and annual performing arts events. Performers ranging from mainstream rock bands to classical musicians and opera singers have appeared at the pavilion, which even hosts physical fitness activities such as yoga. All rehearsals at the pavilion are open to the public; trained guides are available for the music festival rehearsals, which are well-attended.

Millennium Park is part of the larger Grant Park. The pavilion, which has a capacity of 11,000, is Grant Park’s small event outdoor performing arts venue, and complements Petrillo Music Shell, the park’s older and larger bandshell. Pritzker Pavilion is built partially atop the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the park’s indoor performing arts venue, with which it shares a loading dock and backstage facilities. Initially the pavilion’s lawn seats were free for all concerts, but this changed when Tori Amos performed the first rock concert there on August 31, 2005.

The construction of the pavilion created a legal controversy, given that there are historic limitations on the height of buildings in Grant Park. To avoid these legal restrictions, the city classifies the bandshell as a work of art rather than a building. With several design and assembly problems, the construction plans were revised over time, with features eliminated and others added as successful fundraising allowed the budget to grow. In the end, the performance venue was designed with a large fixed seating area, a Great Lawn, a trellis network to support the sound system and a signature Gehry stainless steel headdress. It features a sound system with an acoustic design that replicates an indoor concert hall sound experience. The pavilion and Millennium Park have received recognition by critics, particularly for their accessibility; an accessibility award ceremony held at the pavilion in 2005 described it as “one of the most accessible parks – not just in the United States but possibly the world”.

In February 1999, the city announced it was negotiating with Gehry to design a proscenium arch and orchestra enclosure for a bandshell in the new park, as well as a pedestrian bridge over Columbus Drive (which became BP Pedestrian Bridge). The city sought donors to cover Gehry’s work,[12][13] and the Chicago Tribune dubbed him “the hottest architect in the universe” for his acclaimed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The Tribune noted Gehry’s designs would not include such Mayor Richard M. Daley trademarks as wrought iron and seasonal flower boxes.[14]

Grant Park Music Festival night view of Frank Gehry‘s Pritzker Pavilion
Protected by legislation that has been affirmed by four previous Illinois Supreme Court rulings, Grant Park has been “forever open, clear and free” since 1836,[46][47][48] which was a year before the city of Chicago was incorporated.[49] In 1839, United States Secretary of War Joel Roberts Poinsett declared the land between Randolph Street and Madison Street east of Michigan Avenue “Public Ground forever to remain vacant of buildings.[49] Aaron Montgomery Ward, who is known both as the inventor of mail order and the protector of Grant Park, twice sued the city of Chicago to force it to remove buildings and structures from Grant Park and to keep it from building new ones.[50][51] As a result, the city has what are termed the Montgomery Ward height restrictions on buildings and structures in Grant Park. However, Crown Fountain and the 130-foot (40 m) Pritzker Pavilion were exempt from the height restrictions because they were classified as works of art and not buildings or structures.[52] According to The Economist, the pavilion is described as a work of art to dodge the protections established by Ward, who “rules over Grant Park from the grave”.[53]

Millennium Park project manager Edward Uhlir said “Frank [Gehry] is just the cutting edge of the next century of architecture,” and noted that no other architect was being sought.[12] Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architect Adrian Smith approached Gehry several times on behalf of the city,[15] which originally asked him about doing just a facade, but Gehry was uninterested. A few months later the city asked him to get involved in Millennium Park; Gehry felt he would prefer to design a building, but that he could not complete it in time for the Millennium, and that he would need a much larger budget than the city had envisioned.[16]

 Evening view of a green lawn under a lattice with a lit metal bandshell against a backdrop of skyscrapers

The pavilion and Chicago skyline in October 2012

The city wanted Gehry, the donors supported him, and he was interested in the project.[9] The key component in the modern themes strategy was Gehry’s acceptance of the commission in April 1999.[12][15][17] That month, the city announced that the Pritzker family had donated $15 million to fund Gehry’s bandshell and an additional nine donors committed a total of $10 million.[18][19] The day of this announcement, after it became clear that Cindy Pritzker would fund the project,[16] Gehry agreed to the design request.[20] In November, when his designs for both the pavilion and bridge were unveiled, Gehry already had the basic design for the bandshell, but said the bridge’s design was very preliminary and not well-conceived because funding for it was not committed.[21] The BP Pedestrian Bridge is designed to serve as a buffer against street noise, helping the pavilion’s acoustics.[22]

According to the Guggenheim Museum, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion “suggests musical qualities”, much like Gehry’s Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington.[22] The Pritzker Pavilion follows a series of open-air projects by Gehry, such as the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, the Concord Performing Arts Center in Concord, California, and numerous renovations to the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California.[22]

Jay Pritzker Pavilion competes with Ravinia Park as a Chicago area outdoor music venue.[64][65] The pavilion hosts free music events such as Chicago Gospel Music Festival from spring to fall. In June, July and August, the Grammy-nominated Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus performs free classical concerts at the Grant Park Music Festival.[66] The festival, a Chicago tradition since 1931, remains the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series.[67][68] Although the Music Festival shares pavilion space with several other program series and annual performances, its concerts most Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the heart of the summer are the core of the pavilion’s offerings.[17] Travel guide Frommer’s lists the park, pavilion, and these free concerts as some of the best free things to do in Chicago.[69] In summer the pavilion also hosts a series of jazz concerts,[70] and the Great Lawn hosts yoga and pilates workouts on Saturday mornings.[71]

The Pritzker Prize presentation ceremony, which moves to an architecturally significant location each year, was held in the Pritzker Pavilion in April 2005.[72] Among the annual performers at the pavilion are Steppenwolf Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO).[17] At the end of the Grant Park Music Festival season in August, the Festival’s Grant Park Orchestra and Carlos Kalmar presented Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John AdamsOn the Transmigration of Souls, which was written at the request of the New York Philharmonic to honor the victims of the September 11 attacks.[73] On Sunday September 11, 2005, United States Senator Barack Obama (who was later elected President of the United States) served as guest narrator for a 9/11 tribute concert by the CSO. The focal work of the concert was Aaron Copland‘s “Lincoln Portrait” and the concert was led by former CSO resident conductor William Eddins.[74][75]

Hosted events
Five members of a band play keyboards, electric bass, drums and guitar in front of a symphony orchestra and its conductor, all dressed informally.
The Decemberists played a free concert with the Grant Park Orchestra on July 18, 2007.
At right a woman in black stands in front of many children dressed in black, sitting in three rows of chairs on a large stage. In the background musicians play a grand piano, drums and guitars. At left a woman stands at a microphone, with several adults seated nearby. The stage opens to the outside at far left.
Chicago Children’s Choir backstage at Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Although it was built as a replacement for Grant Park’s outdoor concert facilities, larger annual events such as the Chicago Blues and Chicago Jazz Festivals and Taste of Chicago are too large for Jay Pritzker Pavilion and continue to be held in and around Petrillo Music Shell.[76][77] The pavilion has hosted smaller festivals, such as the Chicago Gospel Music Festival, since 2005.[78][79] Public opinion has been in favor of moving some of the smaller Blues and Jazz festival events to the pavilion, with its better, more modern acoustics.[80] By 2009, as the city grappled with a budget deficit, it considered realigning parts of the larger festivals and made definite plans to move some of the smaller ones to the more modern venue.[81]

Northern Lights 

See the world premiere of The Legend of the Northern Lights by Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Theofanidis, inspired by the children’s story on the origins of the aurora borealis. Journey to the arctic with awe-inspiring images by astronomer Dr. José Francisco Salgado shown on a state-of-the-art screen.

The 80th Anniversary celebration continues with a week-long composer residency by William Bolcom.The 80th Anniversary celebration continues with a week-long composer residency by William Bolcom.

Bolcom and Mozart 

The final week of the Festival’s 80th Season includes the enchanting Cabaret Songs by Pulitzer Prize winner, William Bolcom, the Festival’s 2014 Composer-in-Residence, and Mozart’s iconic Symphony No. 25, featured in the movie Amadeus.


Grant Park Orchestra

Carlos Kalmar, Conductor

Artists From Lyric Opera’s Patrick G. And Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center
J’Nai Bridges, Soprano
Julie Anne Miller, Mezzo-soprano

Anthony Clark Evans, Baritone

Will Liverman, Baritone


Mozart: Symphony No. 25

Bolcom: Cabaret Songs

Piston: Suite: The Incredible Flutist

Program Notes PDF

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